I wrote the following piece about a month ago while I was still in Europe. It documents a month with my good friend Mason which was featured on his blog Backpacking Bonanza under the appropriately creative title Memoirs of a Michael Prichard. Also in his blog profile you can find a little highlight video he made. Enjoy!
Hey guys, Mason here again. Just wanted to say that I'm back in the states. I missed you all and can't wait to hang. Also, my friend Michael was/is such a great travel buddy. Psych. It's Michael. But you probably already knew that.
I wanted to make this short but I ended up having a lot to say about my travels. Also I ended up channeling my inner Bill Bryson and just kind of wrote this as a narrative. But I'll try to stay somewhat organized so this isn't one long ass post and break it down in a few parts.
Some Back(packing)ground and Advice
I'm currently in Glasgow, Scotland with my brother John and his girlfriend Hanna. I left Mason in Munich around 5 am last Wednesday to a half awake bro hug and a promise to grab some more beers when we're both back in California. It was an epic month together exploring various cities in England, Wales, Ireland, France and Germany eating all the food and drinking all the beer we possibly could.
I've been in Europe since Christmas and have hit nine countries in the past couple of months. By the time I get home on March 10th (I know you all miss me so start the countdown) I'll have had traveled with a handful of very different people. As far as Europe travel companions go I'd say the ranking would be: John (twin privileges always win, sorry Mason), Mason, the rock Mason picked up in Ireland, then Keegan. So, if you're ever thinking of taking a road trip, venturing off into the sunset for a bromantic weekend getaway or participating in the international hashtag backpacking bonanza, why I couldn't recommend anyone better than Mason Yang.
Mason and I have known each other since early college, where he made the honest mistake of calling me John. It happens all the time when you share the same DNA as another human so naturally I let it slide. He then proceeded to insist that I was experiencing some sort of identity crisis when I told him that's not my name, they call me Stacey, that's not my name. Eventually I had to show him my driver's license to prove I was a twin.
So we've been friends for a while now. But as college graduates and self proclaimed badasses we collectively agreed that we really don't know each other as well as we should. And that's kind of scary because a trip like this can actually be something of a great risk that could potentially ruin our friendship if we didn't get along.
For those of you who have never traveled before, (come on now, Big Sur last weekend and Havasu Spring Break 2012 No Regrets doesn't count) I mean, like really spent a long period of time abroad before, it's actually one big gamble and you're betting your entire friendship with that person. Look, I'm not trying to scare anyone out of travelling just keep in mind you're going to spend almost every waking moment with this person. You're going to get to know them on a whole new level that you never knew existed. But if you do decide to go to Asia or something with that dude you kind of know from your Marketing 110 lecture in the snapback who can't keep his eyes off your Scantron, fair warning: he might be a selfishly arrogant douchbag.
In order to avoid such surprises Mason and I sat down at a cafeteria table in Oxford, England roughly two hours after we met up. We put everything out there. Openly, honestly and metaphorically laid out all our habits, quirks, annoyances, etc. on sed table. We were both very self aware about how we behave when we travel. We were direct and upfront about things that pissed us off, what we might do that could potentially piss off the other and together figured out how to handle those situations if and when they present themselves.
Solution: Find a kebab place and the wall of that kebab place.
We also talked about our expectations for the month ahead. What cities we wanted to explore, sights and structures we were eager to see and what kind of international dishes we were dying to stuff out faces with and the beers we would wash them down with. Also the fact that there's twelve Chipotle locations spread throughout Europe and I have the addresses for all of them so yeah, that's happening too, Mason. He was game and I already approved.
Our main rule was to always be vocal with one another and I highly recommend this for anyone and their companion thinking about traveling. It's cliché to say and you've probably heard it all before but communication is key. If something made one of us uncomfortable or one of us wasn't too keen on doing something, we didn't hesitate to be vulnerable and say when something was bothering us.
It sounds stupidly simple, I know, but open communication saved us from potential passive aggressiveness, uncomfortable silence and utter resentment for the other. All of our wants, needs and desires were addressed respectfully and we were both flexible enough to always reach a compromise. Tight.
We had everything we needed for the next 30 days on our backs and positive attitudes as we looked forward to strengthening our relationship. We agreed to look out for each other, hold one another accountable and if one of us ever got sick of the other, take an afternoon off to ourselves. "Fair enough," I said, "I get sick of me too sometimes."
We started in the UK and I thoroughly enjoyed my time in England. Mason and I were fortunate enough to spend a few days in Oxford with our hometown friend Cameron Conway and celebrate his birthday with Gourmet Burger Kitchen and a few pints at his favorite pub The Gardner's Arms. We also had the house ale at the Eagle and Child where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien once shared countless pints as they talked about literary ideas, religious experiences and most likely chicks. I got to introduce Mason to London as this was my third time being there in a month. We got tubed in The Tube, ate fish and chips and danced our freaking faces off. He was open to meeting my friend Nina Lodico (if you're reading this: 'sup) from CSULB one afternoon as we ventured through the many beautiful sights the city had to offer like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Chipotle on St. Martin's. Mason also proved to be the ideal travel wingman with his submission for the coveted title of Friend of the Year when one night some random girl tried several times to drunkenly grind up on me in the least sexy way possible at the hostel. He played defense for the better half of the night and quite frankly deserves another beer...or six...teen.
|Sexy London Prom Photo by Nina Lodico|
Outside of London it got less touristy and more Englishly. We met up and stayed with friends Mason had met on one of his previous Europe adventures. Ellie was a great hostess, Jack showed us a great time at Frog and Fiddle as we played pool, drank beer and listened to the pop punk tracks play throughout the bar and Ellie's Harry was probably one of the most interesting characters I've met on this trip. A brief description of Harry can be found in one of Mason's blog posts below. But the thing that I took away from England is that everyone's extremely inviting, generous and hospitable. And beans on toast is pretty freaking good.
I'm going to skip over Wales, their language is weird and all we did was eat Chinese and see The Revenant. But not before acknowledging Mason's flexibility to adapt to different situational speed bumps and hurdles. Like being cool when I didn't want to walk around the city anymore because I got diarrhea in Cardiff. Thanks, bro. Appreciate it.
Now, the hardest part about travelling is the actual act of moving around and getting from Point A to Point B. It's not like physically sitting in a bus, train or plane is a very demanding process but the long hours chasing connections can be tedious and stressful. Looking up and coordinating these different modes of transportation in order to find the cheapest and most efficient route can be kind of overwhelming at times. Lucky for us, we're both incredibly timely people and our mentality is if you're not fifteen minutes early for something then you're late. We never had any problems really. Busses in Europe run pretty frequently and this came in handy when we mistakenly prepaid for a bus at 1 am instead of our intended 1 pm departure. They were also a pleasantly nice place to watch the highway whiz past and to see Mason on the right slightly drooling during a peaceful little cat nap. Man, I should have taken a photo it was Christmas card worthy and insanely adorable.
Merry Sleepmas & Happy Snooze Year!
Love, Michael and Mason
Love, Michael and Mason
We flew from Birmingham to Dublin where we met up with Derek, whom Mason had studied with in Germany years earlier and generously picked us up from the airport. Unfortunately Derek's car shit out on us ten minutes onto the motorway and we had to wait on the side of the road beneath an Ikea until his mom came to rescue us.
In this kind of situation some people would complain, freak out or bitch if things didn't go exactly how they planned in their head. But that's what happens when you travel. We were so close to our destination within the city center. Tired, hungry and had to pee. All we wanted to do was shower and wash away that stench of airplane that somehow manages to cling to your entire being like a parasite. So this little hiccup en route to the city that postponed our arrival to Generator wasn't ideal. Mason's more mellow and I respect his go with the flow type demeanor. I found it to be incredibly reassuring and relaxing. We were so deliriously exhausted from travelling twelve hours through three countries that we honestly couldn't help but laugh. Plus Derek's mom made us delicious paninnis and we didn't have to pee on the side of her house.
Dublin was a more metropolitan city than I had imagined. We spent the weekdays wandering around the city trying different pubs and crossing the bridge that hovered over the river dividing North and South Dublin to get from the Jameson distillery to the Guinness Brewery. The Guinness Brewery was more like a museum and a tourist trap I didn't mind getting sucked into. Okay, I got sucked into it three times. What can I say? Stouts are growing on me, I throughly enjoyed the marketing behind Gilroy's Zoo and after doing the pour your own pint feature I'm pretty much a pro.
But it wasn't until we made it to the Cliffs of Moher via a day tour bus that I finally saw the Irish coast and scenes I pictured in my head. Mason picked up a small rock that he kept in the pocket of his orange Patagonia jacket for the remainder of the trip who he appropriately named Cliff and I dubbed his surname Rockefeller. Randomly he would look at me and in the this serious tone like he was telling me a secret or about to talk shit about someone nearby, open his hand and whisper, "Hey...say hi to Cliff."
The thing I appreciated most about Mason was his patience and understanding. I get extremely anxious, overwhelmed and stressed out in large crowds and claustrophobic spaces. So swimming upstream a river of people in a busy downtown area or standing shoulder to shoulder like sardines in Temple Bar paying €7.20 for a hard cider while listening to drunk thirty somethings belt another Ed Sheeran song out of tune at 11 pm isn't exactly my idea of a good time. I'd much rather sip on a beer and enjoy some good conversation while learning about the micro brew than chugging a pint and planning my escape route. Mason always respected my personal space and let me guilt free find a moment to step outside, take a beat and always offered to find a more mellow scene.
From Dublin we flew into Paris where my hometown friend Jeff Fichtner met us at the bus station on the eve of his birthday weekend with a warm hug and a bottle of wine. I'm glad the two of them had previous experience navigating the city because I was completely lost pretty much the entire time. None of the French metro stations are pronounced how you think they would be when you read them. But at least Chipotle is the same in every language.
So I spent the next few days exploring Paris with Mason and Jeff. Mason and I ate burritos under the Eiffel Tower, dove into the shelves of paperbacks at Shakespeare and Company and celebrated Jeff's birthday at Chez Paul with his friends drinking French wine, and eating tar tar and escargot. Jeff and his friends are all vocal performance students at a conservatory studying opera. So as someone who can only sing professionally in the shower to an audience of shampoo containers, body wash and a half full shower beer, I felt extremely inadequate at the end of "Happy Birthday to youuu.." when everyone nailed and extended the last note like they were one upping the fat lady singing at the end of the show. I, on the other hand, sound like Beaker from the Muppets and Mason lies somewhere in between the two spectrums with the voice of a comforting and gentle indie folk front man serenading college kids at SXSW.
Midway through Paris I used my Get Out of Friend Free card for an afternoon to myself. It's not that I was sick of Mason, or he of me, we got along wonderfully and genuinely enjoyed each other's company. I just hit a wall in my travels and that wall didn't hesitate to punch me right back. The busy city got the best of me and I just needed to spend some time with myself, catch up on writing postcards and get away from people in general. And Mason completely understood, even noticed right away when my mood started changing and I just couldn't hang anymore.
We took about four trains to get into Germany, the place Mason was most excited to show me and eager to revisit. His friends Sonya and Phillip from semester abroad were more than gracious with their hospitality in accommodations and traditional German meals in Ulm and Kirchheim. Mason showed me cities he'd previously live in, studied and explored in adventures before our own. In Ulm Mason and I reached a pivotal moment our relationship as we learned that even though we got along on every fundamental level, the extent of our friendship was sharing a bed. Now, I'm a light sleeper and slightly smaller than my dear friend Mason who tosses and turns quite a bit. Even with earplugs in turning on a light, opening a door or even talking wakes me up unless I'm incredibly sleep deprived. So when you throw us into one bed together, one of us is going to get a good night's sleep and the other isn't. Any guesses? There, I knew you'd get it.
I loved Germany. The beer and the food alone were enough to keep me there but I'd probably end up fat from all the brats and pretzels while somehow managing to be drunk all the time off countless steins. In Munich Mason showed me, his friend Cameron and her friend Dana this incredibly spacious, deserted, lifeless area outside a metro station where he once celebrated Oktoberfest with those countless steins. "Imagine this entire area is wall to wall tents with German food, beer, and people and everyone's hammered," he explained pointing further. Sounds like my freaking nightmare. Except the part about beer. And pretzels. I love pretzels.
The four of us celebrated Valentine's day with a fat tub of popcorn as we contributed to the overseas grossing of Deadpool. The next couple of days in Munich would be the last Mason and I would spend together abroad before Scotland to meet my family and he to Paris to begin a long journey home. It's sad isn't it, dear reader? I'm tearing up too.
Mason and I spent our last night at a German brew house like Donna Megel and Tom Haverford (I'll let you decide who's who) treating ourselves to a nice dinner and drinks celebrating the conclusion of an incredible month together, our friendship in general and the fact that not once did we want to strangle the other or ditch them at train station platform in the middle of Nowheresburg, Germany. We toasted to Europe for bringing us closer together and promised to pick up where we left off back in California, with a desire to explore more of the US the next time around. It was bittersweet and somewhat surreal since Oxford seems like such a short but also long time ago. I was also ready to venture into Scotland for a road trip with my family.
Whenever I've come home from a trip people always ask "What was your favorite part?" or "What was the coolest thing you did?" In the past it's been fairly easy: lightning storm on an island in Bolivia, skydiving and bungee jumping in New Zealand, Mookie Betts smacked two homers at Fenway. But this time I really can't pick one defining moment, not a single instance where I've thought that this, this exact thing that I did or saw is going to be my highlight or answer.
Instead I'd say it's a person, hence this post I'm sending to contribute to the Backpacking Bonanza blog. I'd say that even though I did some cool things and saw some amazingly famous sights here that the highlight of my trip to Europe was that I became incredibly closer with an already good friend from home that I look forward to growing with and doing life together when I return.
But I will remember the adventure as a whole and reference all the little things in between that made phase two of my European escapades memorable and Mason the ideal travel companion. Things like constantly quoting the random absurdity of an animated web series, farting back and forth erupting into a chorus of laughter while secretly hoping the other would shit his pants and lose the bet, every shameful time I had to physically put a failed quip into The Bad Joke Box, sarcastic middle fingers and approving fist bumps, annoyed chuckles and sighs of procrastination upon discovering we were both so far behind in our travel writing, sitting on the top of a double decker bus watching as our monster devoured all other insignificant automobiles below, "I'm Sorry I Kept You Up All Night" breakfast potatoes, somehow managing to get on the right bus and stumble back to the house in Cheltenham seven to eight beers deep, hiking up to a German castle and countless nights of good conversation over even better beer.
Mason is one of the best guys I know. He's genuinely thoughtful, honest and sincere, selflessly empathetic and hilariously enthusiastic. In fact, a week after our separation, I just recently discovered German chocolate, a map and a cute ass note he hid in the one pocket of my backpack I never use. Mason loves maps almost as much as I love Doug the Pug and Chipotle.
I loved traveling with Mason and look forward to doing it again in the near future. After being around each other for so long and more or less living with the other, we agreed that we'd make exceptional roommates and often joke that besides sleeping together and, well, sleeping together we got along so famously that we would make the perfect married couple (sorry, Val). All in all I'd definitely say that my month bumming around and eating half of Europe with Mason was, is and will be, one of the best chapters of the Backpacking Bonanza.